One of the toughest things about running a startup is the feeling of loneliness and isolation. You are on your own and nobody supports you because it’s hard for them to see what you see and feel the excitement that you feel at the critical stages. This is especially true if you run your startup from your garage.
The leadership position alone can cause loneliness and disconnectedness, and that sometimes results in self-defeating behaviors. If your personality already leans toward narcissism, being the boss will likely bring out the worst in you, leading to intimidation, deception, and the use of coercive power. Of course, that leads to further isolation.
It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. Here are some ways to burst through the loneliness of being a founder or top executive, and be the healthy and respected leader of your business:
1. Join peer business groups. Join business organizations of like-minded executives. They provide a safe harbor to come talk about issues of leadership with other business owners. Groups like the Inner Circle and Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) are perfect.
2. Build a trusted team. Most people by nature get some satisfaction from team interaction, working toward the same goal. Even if your startup is a one-man show, you can find an intelligent outside mentor or advisory board member to bounce ideas off.
3. Balance home and family. The best leaders are able to maintain a balance in their lives. They have learned to say no. They accept that their families and their subordinates sometimes need to say no. They turn their work into play and then play hard.
4. Don’t work where you live. Just being able to live and work in separate environments can really help. The change of scenery and external stimulation, whether a coffee shop or just the sunlight, will allow you to switch gears and keep a healthy attitude.
5. Meet customers online. Use Twitter and Facebook to make connections with clients, customers, and peers online. It helps to socialize with several hundred people all at once, even if you never see them face-to-face, and you can “instant message” one-on-one.
6. Plan regular networking lunches. Get out of the office on a regular basis to break up the frustrations of daily crises. This combats the isolation that sometimes comes with leadership, helps you broaden your perspective, and gives moments of pure relaxation.
7. Nurture your charismatic side. Charismatic leaders don’t feel the loneliness, and use a wide range of methods to manage their image. If you are not naturally charismatic, practice diligently to develop these skills of body language and verbal language.
8. Maintain non-business activities. Hearing about your virtual coworkers going hiking, or just spending some time resting and relaxing can be very detrimental to your self esteem. Work to keep up on your own hobbies, and participate in community action events.
9. Let a select few see your frailties and fears. Pretending we have it all together only builds the walls of loneliness higher. On the other hand, opening the door to our frailties invites others in. A trusted team member is usually a safe start.
10. Build a good board of directors or advisors. People under-estimate the value of a good board. Yes, a board does decide whether you stay or go. They probably won’t be your friend all of the time. But a good board can collaborate with you openly, provide advice, and provide you back-up especially when taking a risk.
Entrepreneurial leaders can also become de-motivated after working so hard and so long on something for which the reward may be months or years away, or perhaps never to come at all. Motivation, momentum, and clear progress are strong antidotes to loneliness.
But the best antidote to loneliness is successful leadership. This will give you the positive feedback you yearn for, and will allow both you and your business to become more than you ever dreamed possible.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Callaman Ventures Board Member and Executive in Residence; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups.